In the 1800’s, the Central Valley had up to four million acres of wetlands. Only 5 percent of that amount remains today. The Valley provides some of the most important bird habitat in North America, hosting one of the largest concentrations of migratory birds in the world during fall and winter migrations.
The Stone Lakes Refuge is the single largest complex of natural wetlands, lakes and riparian areas remaining in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. The Refuge provides critical habitat for waterfowl and other migratory birds as well as a variety of endangered plants and animals.
The Friends of the Refuge Conservation Committee works to help the Refuge protect, restore and enhance the approximately 6500 acres that it manages. This includes working with a variety of outside interests, organizations and public agencies to address issues such as water quality impairment, urban encroachment, invasive species, loss of habitat and many others.
If you would like to get involved in speaking out on challenges to the Refuge that are described below, become a volunteer and an active member of our Conservation Committee.
Challenges & Threats
Among the Nation's Six Most Threatened Refuges
In 2005, the National Wildlife Refuge System cited Stone Lakes NWR as one of our nation's six most threatened refuges. At that time, the primary threat was the loss of surrounding habitat due to nearby runaway development along with the resulting increase in urban runoff (polluted water) onto the Refuge. Since 2005, vineyard conversions, new transmission lines, solar power facilities and ongoing urban development have only increased the many challenges facing the refuge.
More recently, two significant external threats been added to the list: the proposed expansion of Elk Grove and the state/federal tunnels project.
Elk Grove Expansion
In 2013, the City of Elk Grove proposed to expand its Sphere of Influence (SOI) to plan for future urban growth outside of the County’s “Urban Services Boundary” south of Kammerer Road. If the application had been approved it would have led to the loss of almost 8000 acres of important agricultural and wildlife habitat lands to urban development.
Development of a significant portion of the proposed expansion area just east of the Stone Lakes Refuge would have eliminated large foraging areas for sandhill cranes, white- fronted geese and other important waterfowl species that spend the winter at the Refuge, as well as summer migrant Swainson’s hawks.
The Friends of Stone Lakes testified, along with other environmental and community groups, in opposition to the SOI expansion. The proposal was denied by the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCo) in November 1913.
Currently there are four proposals in the works to extend the SOI in various areas surrounding Elk Grove. While these are smaller than the 2013 effort, the Friends of Stone Lakes will monitor them and will take action to oppose if there is the threat of loss of habitat around or near the Refuge.
Tunnels Project (California WaterFix)
Central Valley and Southern California water agencies are working with state and federal agencies to plan and construct two huge tunnels, each 40 feet in diameter, to move water around the periphery of the Bay-Delta. The official name of the project is California WaterFix.
The Refuge is ground zero for the Tunnels Project. The three massive water intake plants, the tunnel entrance and forebay and the transmission lines serving them are all proposed to be within or adjacent to the Refuge. Clearly, the wildlife on and around the Refuge would experience significant negative impacts from the project.
Friends of Stone Lakes NWR has been engaged from the outset, expressing major concerns as early as May 2009. We pushed for a Stone Lakes working group and worked with state and federal agencies to address our concerns. On November 2, 2013, the Friends sent a letter to agencies specifying those concerns.
On Oct 30, 2015, the Friends submitted an extensive comment letter on the draft Environmental Impact Report/Environmental Impact Statement expressing our concerns with the inadequacy of the analysis impacts of the Tunnels Project on the Refuge and its resources (a copy is available on the Friends website). Our 21 page letter concluded that the Tunnels Project, as proposed, has enormous impacts on the Refuge that have not been properly identified, analyzed or avoided/mitigated. The Friends of Stone Lakes remains ready to continue the dialogue with the agencies to ensure that, should the Tunnels be approved and constructed, that its impacts on the Refuge are fully mitigated.
On August 2, 2016, the Department of Water Resources released its “biological assessment” for the proposed tunnels. The assessment, which runs hundreds of pages, is a necessary step in the process. Two federal agencies, the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service, now have to decide whether the Tunnels would violate the Endangered Species Act. There is no date set for when that determination will occur.
On July 26, 2016, the State Water Resources Control Board began water rights hearings to consider Cal WaterFix agencies petition to change the location for withdrawing water from the Sacramento River. Friends of Stone Lakes Refuge has filed a protest to the petition and is participating in the hearings. The hearings are expected to be lengthy and contentious.